OPIC Workshop for Minority and Women-owned Businesses Draws 120

ST. LOUIS, Missouri – A workshop for minority- and women-owned businesses in the Greater Midwest organized by the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) drew 120 participants from 20 states around the country today, educating small businesses about investment opportunities overseas and the OPIC products that can help companies take advantage of them.

The Expanding Horizons workshop, held at the St. Louis Union Station Marriott, was the latest in a series that has educated more than 1000 small and medium-sized business owners across the United States about OPIC products and services. Participants at the St. Louis workshop represented the entire region and came from as far afield as the District of Columbia.

“Women- and minority-owned businesses are essential contributors to our economy and depend on the same opportunities to succeed as others. OPIC is uniquely positioned to enable Midwestern businesses to make the most of investment opportunities in emerging markets – access to which could prove important to the Midwest’s ability to pull out of the recession,” said OPIC Acting President Dr. Lawrence Spinelli. “We are extremely pleased to see such a large turnout today.”

Dr. Spinelli noted that a 2003 study by the Minority Business Development Agency suggested that minority-owned U.S. businesses enjoy ‘genuine competitive advantages’ for investing overseas – including flexibility, comfort and experience with diversity, and decision-making speed – but were not making sufficient use of them. Firms were reluctant to export because of perceived barriers and obstacles, the study reported – despite the fact that “smaller firms are typically innovative, fast-moving and accustomed to producing in limited volumes uniquely suited to marketing in both developed and developing countries.”

The workshop began with a panel discussion on government programs moderated by Dr. Spinelli, featuring Alice Bernard-Jones, International Finance Manager for the Missouri Development Finance Board; George Chunkau Mui, Global Business Consultant for the Minority Business Development Agency; John Blum, Regional Manager for the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Export Solutions Group; Margaret Gottlieb, International Trade Specialist for the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Commercial Service; Diane Farrell, Member of the Board of Directors of the Export-Import Bank of the United States; and Andrea Lupo, Assistant Director for Policy and Programs at the U.S. Trade and Development Agency.

In an addition to customary workshop sessions on OPIC products such as political risk insurance and financing for SMEs, the St. Louis event featured a new session on OPIC support for renewable energy and clean energy technology projects, a new area of focus for the agency.

Theresa Wilson, founder and executive director of the Blessing Basket Project, a nonprofit organization based in Granite City, Illinois, was keynote speaker.

Organizations supporting the St. Louis workshop were the American Association of Blacks in Energy- Southeastern Missouri/Southern Illinois Chapter; American Association of Blacks in Energy- Kansas-Missouri Chapter; American Association of Blacks in Energy- Washington, DC Chapter; Bankers' Association for Finance & Trade; Dialogue on Diversity; Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Greater Kansas City; Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan St. Louis; Illinois Global Partnership; Kansas World Trade Center; Missouri Department of Economic Development; Missouri Office of Supplier & Workforce Diversity; Missouri Women’s Council; National Association of Women Business Owners- International Forum; National Association of Women Business Owners- Louisville; National Association of Women Business Owners- St. Louis; National Women’s Business Council; Small Business Exporters Association; St. Louis Minority Business Council; U.S. Chamber of Commerce; Winning Women; World Trade Center of the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce; World Trade Center, St. Louis.

OPIC held Expanding Horizons workshops in Atlanta, Chicago and Los Angeles during 2006; in Miami, Newark, San Francisco and Houston in 2007; and in Boston last month. Combined attendance for the earlier workshops was more than 900 participants. Eighty-four organizations supported the workshops.